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Is Washington getting serious about filibuster reform?

A recent report from the Brookings Institution outlines seven ideas for reform, while a challenge from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer puts Sen. Joe Manchin on the spot for his continued support of the filibuster.

Sen. Joe Manchin is the most conservative member of the Democrats’ 50-member quasi-majority.
Sen. Joe Manchin is the most conservative member of the Democrats’ 50-member quasi-majority.
Leigh Vogel/Pool via REUTERS

The filibuster is, of course, inherently UN-democratic, in the sense that it undermines the presumed power of the majority to rule.

Our system is already set up, more than most, to make it harder to enact a law, requiring majorities in two houses of Congress, each elected on a different basis, and the Senate, especially, on a basis far removed from one-person one-vote. The most populous state, California, has around 25 times more eligible voters than Wyoming, the least populous. But each state has two senators. And the two “bonus” electoral votes each state gets also reduces the more populous state’s relative weight in the choice of a president compared to the smaller states.

The filibuster adds yet another way that a minority can (and often does) frustrate the will of the majority, which has become its essential purpose, since it has next to nothing to do with guaranteeing enough time for a full debate on a bill but instead is just a means by which a minority can block a majority.

The current issue of “Governance Studies,” a publication of the Brookings Institute, provides an overview of several ideas for reducing the frequency and power of the filibuster, at a moment when its power to frustrate majority rule seems to be at a peak. It is titled “Filibuster Reform is Coming: Here’s How – Seven Ideas for Change.”

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Here’s a link to a PDF of the whole piece.

I’m skeptical, because I’m cynical. We don’t have majority rule in the America, least of all in the Senate, where we have a California senator representing 25 times more people than a Wyoming Senator, and a majority of states would lose relative power in the Senate if the filibuster went away. But we’re talking about the specific barrier the filibuster represents to anything remotely representing majority rule because of the way the big states break down by party, and especially the way the small ones do, since more of them are red states.

But the filibuster is an especially tense issue, because it mostly helps Republicans at the moment and, while the Democrats could revise the rule with their 50 votes plus Vice President Kamala Harris, their most conservative member, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has pretty much rejected getting rid of the filibuster on the grounds that he believes in a bipartisan style of governance, not one party jamming their program down the throats of the other.

You know all that, of course, but here’s a Washington Post column by E.J. Dionne about a “friendly challenge” Senate Democratic (and majority) Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has publicly made to Manchin, specifically on the matter of a bill to address the numerous, large and obvious questions that have arisen on the pretty basic issue of whether our voting laws need reform to crack down on various measures popping up in Republican states that are blatantly designed to make it harder for non-whites and other Democratic-leaning groups to vote.

The challenge from Schumer to Manchin is roughly this: If it takes 60 senators to pass any law, find 10 Republican senators who would vote for a proposal that Manchin could support that makes voting fairer, especially in Republican-led states that are trying to make it harder for Democrats to vote.

If there is such a bill, and it would truly have that effect, makes voting fairer rather than harder, Democrats will also favor it and Schumer will bring it to a vote and it will pass.

Maybe Manchin can do it. I’m skeptical and I assume Schumer is too.

Still, it’s a reasonable standard to apply, by my lights, but an even more reasonable way to highlight what the reluctance of Manchin (and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten ’s (D-Ariz.) to overcome the filibuster in the name of democracy and fair elections means.

Here’s a link to an E.J. Dionne column in the Washington Post that explains the situation and the meaning of Schumer’s challenge, admittedly from his (and my) liberal perspective but without advocating for any liberal thing other than the idea of making it easier for everyone who wants to vote to do so, which, frankly should be neither a liberal nor a conservative thing. It should be an American thing, but, somehow, in today’s Republican view, is the opposite.

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Dionne’s column was headlined: “A make-or-break moment for our democracy.”

Does that headline go too far? If so, what level of legalized voter suppression will break our democracy?